The Times, September 5, 2006
By Neil Fisher
Wagner: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Edinburgh, 2 September 2006
Die Meistersinger
There they were, lined up for inspection: the old and the new, all paying tribute to Brian McMaster in his final fling as boss of the Edinburgh Festival, in an opera appropriately celebrating both tradition and renewal. There were old chums from McMaster's WNO days -Richard Van Allan and Jeffrey Lawton, making cameo appearances as two of the fusty mastersingers and the Wagnerian veteran Robert Holl as Hans Sachs, while the youngsters Jonas Kaufmann, MatthewRose, James Rutherford also got prominent positions. Not a night for keeping emotions in check, particularly with the affectionate tribute delivered in praise of McMaster before the performance kicked off. For some that was probably enough, yet the chemistry never seemed quite right for a really roof-lifting performance. For disciplined playing, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra couldn't be faulted the brass were on particularly reliable form but they often sounded flat-footed and colourless under David Robertson's unexciting conducting, and the overture failed to soar. Nor did Holl's experienced Hans Sachs deliver as much as it promised. His Sachs very much the poet rather than the cobbler was lucid enough, but where was the humanity and humour of Wagner's most engaging hero? Holl's sparring with Andrew Shore's fluent but surprisingly earnest Beckmesser lacked theatricality in a concert setting. The Swedish soprano Hillevi Martinpelto, another McMaster favourite, is probably better suited to one of Wagner's more hysterical heroines than the shy, girlish Eva. So thank goodness for those flying the flag for the next generation. As a petulant, passionate Walther, Jonas Kaufmann proved a revelation: yes, the role lies at the very limits of his lyric tenor, but his ardent spontaneity was the evening's highlight. Rose's Pogner made up in character and style what he lacked in vocal weight, and Rutherford was an exceptional Kothner. Bonus marks go to Wendy Dawn Thompson's fruity Magdalene and Toby Spence's puppyish David, and to an enjoyably raucous Edinburgh Festival Chorus. Not, in all, the dream finale to McMaster's 14 years at the top, but it goes without saying that his successor has a lot to live up to.

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